Mrs. Ninnie Baird was a remarkable woman...
In 1901 William and Ninnie Baird brought their family from Tennessee to Fort Worth, Texas. William, a restaurateur by trade, set up a business in downtown Fort Worth selling popcorn from a bright red cart with brass fittings and a loud steam whistle. Within months his success led him to buy another popcorn cart which was run by his oldest son, Dewey, only eight-years-old. But it wasn't long before William Baird decided to get back into the restaurant business.
By 1905, William Baird had started, built up and sold one restaurant and was working on his second, when he received devastating news. He was diagnosed as having diabetes, in those days an incurable and untreatable disease. Although very ill, William Baird and his young son Dewey worked in the family restaurant. Ninnie Baird tended to the home and her three other sons, and like everyone else of that time, she baked for her family. Every day she would cut wood to fire the wood-burning stove. It was hot, sometimes dirty work, but in spite of the lack of modern conveniences, Mrs. Baird became a wonderful baker. The loaves of bread, cakes and pies she baked, the family enjoyed. Any extra was shared with the neighbors. Her bread was so delicious that it wasn't long before her reputation was known far and wide.
Ninnie did all her baking in a wood-fired stove...
In 1908, with William's health failing, it became impossible for him to continue working. It was clear that Ninnie Baird needed to find a way to help support her family, so she established Mrs Baird's Bread. In 1911, William died and Ninnie Baird decided to continue the business she had begun. Every day, in her home, in a wood-burning stove that could bake only four loaves at a time, Ninnie baked her wonderful bread, cakes and pies. Her boys helped bake and deliver the bread on foot. Her daughters took care of the smaller children and did other chores around the house. Mrs Baird's Bread was truly a family business. As business grew, the boys went from delivering bread on foot, to riding bicycles.
In 1915, demand for Mrs Baird's bread had outgrown Ninnie's wood-burning stove. A larger oven was needed so she bought a commercial oven from the Metropolitan Hotel in Fort Worth. Unable to pay cash for the $75 oven, Ninnie put down $25 and paid out the rest in bread and rolls. The new oven, which could bake 40 loaves at a time, was installed in a small wooden building in the family's backyard. Sales continued to grow to the point where the boys could not make deliveries on their bicycles. So, the Baird's buggy was converted into a wagon and pulled by the family horse. The first company employee, Mr. Lipps, who was not a Baird family member, was hired to drive the wagon. Over time, delivering to the sales route became son Hoyt's job. In 1917 the family bought a Ford passenger car, took out the seats and painted "Eat More Mrs Baird's Bread" on the sides.
From buggy to passenger car, Mrs. Baird's expansion begins...
About this time Mrs Baird's Bread began selling to commercial accounts. Two Telephone Exchanges bought pies daily and Sandegard's Grocery became the company's first bread reseller. Sandegard's, a large store with a delicatessen, proved to be a very good customer as it soon grew to 15 stores, all displaying Mrs Baird's Bread prominently in a glass case. In 1918, Hoyt Baird left Fort Worth to join the Army, leaving the company without a delivery driver. It was decided to discontinue selling direct and concentrate instead on selling only wholesale. Demand steadily increased, and so did the bakery. Now located at 6th Avenue and Terrell Street, the little 30 foot by 72 foot facility housed an oven that could bake 400 loaves at a time. Wholesale deliveries now stretched into every corner of Fort Worth, where fresh-baked bread, rolls, cakes and pies were delivered every day. Over the next ten years the bakery was enlarged nine times, until it was one of the largest baking facilities in Texas.
In 1928, the Bairds opened a new bakery across the Trinity River in Dallas, Texas. The stock market crash of 1929 signaled the start of the Great Depression, and, like everyone else, Mrs Baird's Bread had to cut back to survive those lean times. By 1938, business was returning to normal and the bakery needed to expand again. They built a new bakery in Houston, Texas and added another plant in Fort Worth. Once a one-horse delivery system, now a fleet of trucks was needed at each of the four bakeries. The two new bakeries also featured plate glass windows so that visitors could watch the baking process. Not only could you smell the delicious bread, but you could watch it being made as well.
In the 1940's, America entered World War II and the country saw a shortage of many items, like sugar. Because they went off to fight the war, workers were also in short supply. These shortages forced Mrs Baird's to reduce the number and kinds of bread product it baked, but it never compromised on quality. If an ingredient was in short supply, then the bakery just didn't bake that item for a while.
Post War Growth establishes Mrs Baird's as Texas' Bread
Following the war, in 1949, Mrs Baird's expanded again building a bakery in Abilene, Texas. In 1959 and 1960 the company acquired bakeries in the Texas cities of Victoria, Lubbock, Waco and Austin. Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, the company prospered. Ninnie Baird, the namesake of the thriving company, however, experienced declining health. Now 80, she stayed at home most of the time. The boys handled most of the day-to-day operations, but Ninnie Baird, still the Chairman of the Board, was always consulted on the major decisions. The family's commitment to quality, freshness and service never waivered. It was a work ethic that was passed on from generation to generation as well as, the importance of family, a Christian upbringing, and community. From the beginning until her death, she shared with her neighbors and her community.
The Passing of Mrs. Baird
On June 3, 1961, at the age of 92, Ninnie L. Baird died. The news of her death made headlines throughout Texas. The Texas State Senate passed a resolution in her memory and declared Ninnie Baird "a living example for mothers, wives, business executives, Christians and good people the world over." At her funeral, the presiding minister called Ninnie "an ideal woman in the eyes of God."
At a time when women didn't start and run businesses, Ninnie Baird had. Today, Mrs Baird's Bread is a living legacy to a very strong woman who built a business the old fashioned way - on quality, honesty, and customer care.